Cellphones of hundreds of Jordanians hacked via Pegasus, experts and activists say

Pegasus spyware was developed by Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group and exploits technical vulnerabilities in a victim’s mobile device to gain access to their data. (Photo: Pixabay)
AMMAN — Hundreds of Jordanians have been victims of the Israeli spyware Pegasus, including members of commission that worked out a reform blueprint and members of the Islamist opposition, an information security expert has said.اضافة اعلان

Hussein Al-Jedi, CEO of Tadarus, an Amman-based information security company told reporters at a press conference on Thursday that former MP, academic, and member of the Royal Committee for the Modernization of the Political System Dima Tahboub had her mobile phone hacked; also hacked was the phone of another member of the committee, Dima Alam Farraj, a social media influencer and media professional.

The spyware also targeted Secretary-General of the Islamic Action Front (IAF) Murad Al-Adayleh, manager of the party’s election campaign for the 2020 parliamentary polls Badi Rafaiah, also a unionist, and journalist Hussam Gharaibeh, the IAF announced.

Tahboub, who was a spokesperson for the Islamist bloc at the Lower House, told Jordan News that the attack dates back to 2019, when she was still a lawmaker. “It is apparent,” she said, “that the people behind the attack targeted the government”, as she, in her capacity as a legislator, used to hold frequent meetings with top officials.

Five people whose data was exposed used iOS were among 200 Jordanian figures using Apple cellphones who were targeted. They all received notifications of the breach by Apple, but no such information was available for Android users.

This means that the number is significantly higher than that, Jedi said.

According to Statcounter.com, Android-operated cellphones have a market share of a little less than 80 percent in Jordan, while Apple phones dominate around 20 percent and the rest is shared by other brands using different operating systems.

About a month ago, lawyer and human rights activist Hala Ahed announced that her phone was hacked via Pegasus; that was confirmed by Access Now and Front Line Defenders, the international anti-surveillance groups.

According to Access Now, Pegasus spyware, developed by Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group, “exploits technical vulnerabilities in a victim’s device to covertly gain access to the device and extract data, including text messages, emails, media, microphone, camera, passwords, voice calls on messaging apps, location data, call logs, and contacts.

The spyware potentially allows an attacker to activate the phone camera and microphone to spy on an individual’s calls and activities. As such, Pegasus not only enables the surveillance of the target, but also the target’s communications and interactions with other people”.

Jedi further warned that the system is characterized by a “zero-click” feature, which, unlike other types of spyware software, does not need the victim to activate a link.

Last year, an investigation by the UK-based daily The Guardian in collaboration with 16 other media organizations, indicated that Pegasus was sold to authoritative regimes to spy on dissenters, including “Human rights activists, journalists and lawyers across the world”. 

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